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The T-34-85 in WWII: A Closer Look

by Ray Peterson


This project all began innocently enough, with research for a future diorama containing a T-34-85 in Poland, in the summer/fall of 1944. As I planned on using the DML kit, I started through my reference material to see if it was suitable. I thought I was relatively familiar with the T-34-85, and had confidence I knew what I was looking for. As I perused through all the photos, I found some answers, but also many questions surfaced as I began to notice subtle differences in the turrets I had not noticed before, nor had seen in prior publications. I realized I needed to take notes to catalog the differences I was finding for future reference. One thing led to another and the results you see here.

The turret sketches that follow are inspired and loosely based on those shown in Ref. (E). The Model Art drawings were used to help me get a basic shape for the turrets. I decided to draw them from the opposite angle, and then modified the shapes and added or revised details and added notes based on the many photos of the various references. The sketch format also allowed me to portray the turrets without trying to show any exact scale. As I do not have ready physical access to any T-34-85's, I do not have the ability to get exact dimensions. This sketch format was perfect for showing specific characteristics without worrying about dimensions. The roof plan sketches were partially based on drawings in Ref. (F).

A Brief History

The T-34-85 began with an urgent need for a heavier-armed tank. With the introduction of the Panther and Tiger to the battlefield, the Soviet armored units found themselves at a distinct disadvantage. An order went out in May 1943 to develop a new tank cannon to deal with the problem. By the middle of 1943, four 85mm gun variants were ready for trials, the D-5-T, the S-53, the S-50, and the LB-85. The S-53 was the winner of the competitive trials. Now a tank was needed to mount them on.

The T-43 had been in development beginning in 1942, an attempt to modernize and eliminate shortcomings of the T-34 design. Changes included up-armoring and increasing the size of the crew compartment. It was still armed with the 76mm gun. Once it had been decided to up-arm to the 85mm gun, the T-43 quickly lost favor. At 34.1 tons already, the heavier cannon would make things only worse. An 85mm gun was fitted for trials, but that was the end of the T-43 program.

Now, things turned towards up-gunning the T-34. At first an attempt was made to install the S-53 cannon in the standard T-34 turret. However, it was decided the turret was too cramped and two men could not effectively operate the weapon. Therefore it was decided a new turret was needed. Both Zavod #112 "Krasnoye Sormovo" and Zavod #183 "Nizhniy Tagil" worked on designs. These designs were based on, but not copies of, the T-43 turret.

The first turrets ready were to be those of "Krasnoye Sormovo." However, it became clear the S-53 cannon could not be installed in the turret without limiting its elevation. A change in design would be needed. In the meantime, it was decided to mount the D-5-T gun as an interim solution. It was planned to produce 100 turrets by the end of 1943, but in fact, the new turrets did not come off the assembly line until January 1944.

Meanwhile, the S-53 gun could be installed in the Zavod. #183 turrets without any problems. The Red Army accepted the S-53 gun in January 1944, and production began in March. Following soon after were the re-designed turrets of Zavod #112, plus an additional factory, Zavod. #174, began producing 85mm armed turrets. After field trials however, a problem was found with the recoil of the S-53 gun. After revisions, the Zis-S-53 gun was born. This replaced the S-53 cannon at Zavod. #183 in the summer of 1944. In all, 11,518 S-53 and 14,265 ZiS-S-53 guns were produced in 1944-45, with some of the ZiS-S-53 guns also being installed in the T-44.

Production of the T-34-85 continued through 1946, with various production changes occurring along the way. An electric traverse motor was added in the summer of 1944. A new, larger, commander's cupola was introduced in January 1945. The ventilators in some factories were split forward and back of the turret to help ventilation in late 1945. All told, about 23,000 T-34-85 tanks were built during WWII, with about 13,900 produced by Zavod. #183, 6,300 produced by Zavod. #112, and 2,900 by Zavod. #174. (Note: exact numbers vary depending on source.)

The "1943 Production Turret"



Turret Notes

This is the early Zavod. #112, commonly referred to as the 1943 Production Turret, although tanks did not roll out of the factory until January 1944. These turrets had the early style roof (which I refer to as a "Type A" roof) with the commander's cupola more towards the center. Approximately 300 D-5-T armed turrets were built, most (but not all, see notes for the subsequent Zavod. #112 Spring '44 Turret) of which were based on this turret. Some resources mention the first produced turrets featured only one ventilator at the rear, and were based on a standard hull with curved bow and possibly without reinforcing fillets or angles at the base of the turret ring. However photos of the 38th Independent Tank Regiment, the first unit to receive the T-34-85, show the turret above on a hull with pointed bow and reinforcing fillets. (See photo on page 5, Ref. (A) as well as many other references.) I am led to believe those single-vented turrets were only the prototypes and probably (never say never) did not see service. By the way, references seem to disagree on turret crew. Some say these early turrets only had a crew of two, others say a crew of three, the gunner being so cramped as to be virtually sitting on the commander's lap.

Hull Notes

Hulls were basically the same as the original T-34 series, with the exception of the enlarged turret rings. The bow was also changed to a pointed style to simplify construction. As mentioned above, a reinforcing fillet was added in front of and to each side of the turret ring. This appears on all T-34-85's of all styles per the photos. The radio on these first turrets was located in the original position in the hull. Most of these first T-34-85's had a unusual fuel tank arrangement. They carried three tanks, but with the single tank on the left side in the forward position. Most all pictures show tanks with this turret to use solid roadwheels.


Zavod. #112, Spring '44 Production Turret



Turret Notes

This is the revised 1943 Production Turret with the new ZiS-S-53 gun and the Type B Roof with the commander's cupola moved back to provide more room for the gun mount and gunner. Note the removal of the vision slit above the pistol port on the left side. (All T-34-85 turrets retained the vision slit on the right side throughout WWII). Also, the radio has now been moved to the turret and an aerial mount is just forward of the commander's cupola. There is some contradicting information about the gun and whether it was a ZiS-S-53 or a S-53 gun, which I will discuss later. As noted on the drawing, one picture as seen on page 56, Ref. (C), shows this turret armed with a D-5-T gun. This leads me to believe the change in roof layout was more for crew efficiency than fitting a different weapon.

Hull Notes

Hulls for this series were much the same as hulls for the 1943 Production Turrets. The plug for the radio was still located on the hull side for at least some of the tanks, though no radio was carried there. Some pics show the extra fuel tank on the left in the forward position; others show it in the more standard rear position. Roadwheels were again typically of the solid type, though single wheels, probably replacements, are sometimes seen in the half-finned style. One interesting item, though. A picture that can be seen (in color!) at http://www.algonet.se/~toriert/attack.jpg from Ref. (M), shows the plumbing for smoke dischargers on the rear of the tank (no smoke canister mounts however). Other references state this addition did not occur until the summer of 1944. This makes me wonder if this turret actually may have been in production until the summer of '44 or if the smoke system began to be added earlier than noted.

"Flattened Style" Turret, Spring '44 Production



Turret Notes

The most common turret was of this style, produced by Zavod. #183. It is named for the slightly flattened area on each side. This turret was originally armed with the S-53 gun which can be distinguished by the bulges at each side of the collar. A good picture of this period turret is at http://www.geocities.com/~fi1877/ps245003.html , from Ref. (L). There is some confusion surrounding this gun. Some sources say the S-53 was produced from spring '44 to summer '44 when the ZiS-S-53 replaced it. Other sources say the ZiS-S-53 started production much earlier. My question is whether the bulged collar was required for the S-53 mount, or if was it just an early collar design. One reference actually refers to the bulged collar as a S-53 mount, but another lists it as simply an early ZiS-S-53 variant. Another possibility, though purely speculation on my part, is perhaps the ZiS-S-53 did start production earlier and outfitted tanks from Zavod. #112 and Zavod. #174 (both of which there is no clear photo evidence of ever having the bulged collar), but that for quota's sake Zavod. #183 used the S-53 until summer '44 when ZiS-S-53 production was high enough to provide guns for all factories. Ref. (F) seems to bear this possibility out, listing very high production numbers for the S-53 gun, near that of the ZiS-S-53 gun. At any rate, the bulged collar shows up quite late in the series, with one photo on page 8 of Ref. (F) showing a turret with the bulged collar and the bulge for the electric traverse, which didn't enter production until summer '44. Note the horizontal seam line of this turret was on a flat plane completely around the turret. Also, a very rough casting nub appears on each side, which appears to protrude about 3 to 4 cm or 1" to 1½".

Hull Notes

Hulls seen with this style turret have the usual T-34-85 features of pointed bow and reinforcing fillets, but now seem to have deleted the hull radio plug, though it is possible the first tanks may have had this feature. Roadwheels on tanks from this factory primarily show the half-finned style, but some had solid wheels. Some pics show a mix, usually a single different wheel, probably from repairs. No smoke plumbing is typically seen on tanks with this early turret, though the smoke generation system is seen in some photos. Evidently the smoke system was introduced late spring or early summer. Good examples of this period are on page 28 of Ref. (N), with photo #75 of a vehicle of the 4th Guards showing smoke plumbing and canisters and photo #77 of a vehicle of the 26th Guards without smoke generator plumbing or canisters. These pictures date around mid-summer of '44 so the tanks are probably late-spring production. The turrets shown in both photos do not have the thickened area around the pistol port, but do not have the bulge for the electric traverse either.

"Composite Turret" Summer '44 Production


Turret Notes

The so-called Composite Turret is associated by some references with Zavod. #112. This appears to be correct considering the similar shape of the seam and also similar location of the casting numbers. A theory I have is that maybe this is Zavod. #112's revised casting to be able to fit the electric traverse? I have no way to confirm that, but it is true that no composite turret is ever seen with a bulge for the traverse, including 1945 production and post-war versions, so the traverse must have fit without modification. Note the shape of the lower part of the turret at the forward seam seems to vary a bit in the photos. I tried to match what is seen on page 70, Ref. (C), or page 39, Ref. (D). Note this a pretty rough turret, including the rear portion that extends down to create a flat bottom, as if it was made of a steel plate. I believe this is because of how the original master was made for the molds, as it is obvious from the photos the entire turret was cast, and the vertical seam does not appear to be a weld.

Hull Notes

Hulls for this style pretty much matched the hulls for the Flattened Style turrets. Smoke discharger plumbing is seen on some of the photos, but it is impossible to tell if they all had it. Road wheels were typically of the solid style.

"Flattened Style" Turret, Summer '44 Production


Turret Notes

This turret shows the revisions made by Zavod. 183 by late summer of '44. This includes the bulge for the electric traverse, removal of the fairing at the pistol port, and the later style collar for the ZiS-S-53 gun. Wire tie-downs also make their appearance on the rear of the turret.

Hull Notes

Most hulls of this time, but not all, now carry the smoke generator plumbing. Also, the front mudguards are squared off about the time of these other modifications, though some cross-over occurred. As per other tanks from this factory, the road wheels are mostly of the half-finned variety, though some solid wheels are also seen. Another addition seen is small fittings are added to the front glacis plate for adding spare tracks. A good picture of this feature is on page 66 of Ref. (C).

"Flattened Style" Turret, 1945 Production


Turret Notes

The final version of the Flattened Style turret is the 1945 version. The main difference between this one and the summer '44 version is the larger, one leaf commander's cupola. This is the turret version seen in the DML kit.

Hull Notes

The hull details seen with this turret are basically identical to the summer '44 hulls. The only visible difference is the road wheels now typically feature the full-finned style (again, as per the DML kit), though some are still seen with solid wheels.

"Composite Turret" Late 1945 Production


Turret Notes

I have included this turret simply for completeness. This turret is often referred to as the ''1946 Production” turret, though references state production actually began in late 1945, technically during WWII, so I have included it. No photo evidence exists that I have found showing any tanks with this style turret that actually saw action. The major feature is the relocation of one of the fans to the front of the turret. The design of the exhaust fan armored cap is also slightly changed. This style turret is what is included in the Maquette T-34-85 kit.

Hull Notes

The hull is essentially the same as the Flattened Turret 1945-production hull except for the roadwheels, which seem to be mostly solid style with no perforations or the full-finned style, which shows in some post-war photos.

"Center Seam Style", Spring '44?? Production Turret


Turret Notes

This is a new style to me, which I am dubbing the "Center Seam" style for the casting seam which occurs near the center of the turret all the way around. I have never seen this style referred to in any English language book, and seem to occur in only one Russian book, page 40 in Ref. (I). Other references do have photos of this style, including page 14 in Ref. (A), page 39 in Ref. (H), and pages 20 and 22 in Ref. (G). Most of these photos by the way are of the same unit, the Polish 1st "Bohaterow Westerplatte" Armored Brigade. I am speculating this turret style might be an early version of a Zavod. #174 tank, only by process of elimination, and per the fact that the Angle-Jointed Style photos seem to imply a later production vehicle, not to mention post-war produced T-34-85's which seemed to keep the Angle-Jointed style, or a variant thereof. The turret does not seem to feature a flattened area on its sides, which would tend to rule out Zavod #183. However, it is also just as likely it is simply a turret manufactured by a sub-contractor to any of the T-34-85 tank factories, probably with low production numbers due to the lack of photos. We may never learn the full story.

Hull Notes

The hulls for this style turret seem to have the same features as any of the other Spring '44 hulls, including rounded front fenders. It is unclear whether any were fitted with smoke generator plumbing or fittings. Road wheels seem to be all of the solid variety.

''Angle-Jointed Style'', Summer '44?? Production Turret


Turret Notes

This drawing is based on the picture featured on page 3 of Ref. (D), also on page 65 of Ref. (C). This is the only real clear picture of an Angle-Jointed turret in action during WWII that I could find, although I believe a couple of pictures are also in Ref. (G) but are not a positive ID. The turret has basically the same features of any other summer '44 turret, although the electric traverse does not appear to have been installed. At least no bulge is noticeable, and bulges for the electric traverse are featured in post-war versions of this turret. One odd feature of this photo is the commander's cupola. It appears more cylindrical, like a 1945 style cupola, yet has the two leaves of a 1944 style cupola. 1944 cupola's typically have a taper on the top third of the cylinder which appears to be missing on this example. I don't know if it is just the light or a production variation.

Hull Notes

The hull in the photo appears to be a re-manufactured hull from a 76mm armed tank. It has a rounded front fillet but with squared off front fenders. One resource mentions that re-manufacturing did occur during the summer of '44 so this seems to fit. It is this feature that leads me to believe this turret variant came after the ''Center Seam” turret. Other tanks in the picture appear to have normal late style hulls with squared fillets. Wheels appear to be of the solid style.

Turret Roofs


Early Roof Notes

These series of drawings are to better illustrate the changes to the roof plans of the turrets. It is easy to see how the commander's cupola was moved back, along to a lesser degree the loader's hatch and the ventilators. Note, if you wish to model a 1944 production turret, the early commander's cupola is the same as that of the 1943 prod. T-34/76 or the SU-85 or SU-100. Per the drawings in Ref. (F), I would use the Zvesda cupola from their SU-100 kit, as it appears exactly the right size, or the one form the DML SU-100 which is only slightly too large. The Tamiya T-34/76 cupola however is too small.


Late Roof Notes

The later turret roofs are typified by the larger commander's hatch. You can see how it just slightly sits off the edge, requiring a slight bulge in the turret casting as seen in the Flattened Style, 1945 Production turret above. Also shown is the late war, and post-war, style with the separated ventilators.


I hope this article has many of you pulling out your reference material, looking closer at the photos. I know I found many surprises as I dug further into the subject. I hope some of you can point out to me some new photos or observations and I hope to have further conversations in the discussion group. You can also e-mail me at (TBA) . Maybe between your observations, and the fact I have 3 more T-34-85 books on order, I will have to put out an addendum to this article!


  1. Zaloga, Kinnear, Sarson; T-34-85 Medium Tank 1944-1994; #20 New Vanguard series, Osprey Publishing.

  2. Zaloga, Grandsen; The Eastern Front, Armor Camouflage and Markings, 1941 to 1945; Squadron/Signal Publications.

  3. Zaloga, Kinnear, Aksenov, Koshchavtsev; Soviet Tanks in Combat 1941-1945, The T-28, T-34, T-34-85 and T-44 Medium Tanks; Concord Publications.

  4. Zaloga, Grandsen; T-34 in Action; Squadron/Signal Publications.

  5. T-34 & KV; Model Art Publication.

  6. Medium Tank T-34-85; Armor Collection 4/99 by Modelist Konstructor.

  7. Skotnicki; Vehicles of the Polish Armed Forces Eastern Front 1943-1945; AjaKS – Ksiazki Militarne.

  8. Baryatinskiy, Dmitriev; Tanks of the Second World War: The Red Army; ''Technika-Molodyezhu”.

  9. T-34-85; Technika and Voorugenie 11-12/1999. (Thanks to Pawel Libner for checking this one out for me.)

  10. "T-34-85 Medium Tank: Development History"; http://history.vif2.ru/t34_85.html .

  11. "The Brief History of T-34-85 IPMS Fi-1877 Website photo gallery; http://www.geocities.com/~fi1877/mediumheavytanks.html .

  12. "T-34-85 Model 1944"; http://www.algonet.se/~toriert/t3485.htm .

  13. Kolomiyets & Moshchanskiy; Camouflage of the Tanks of the Red Army, 1930-1945; Armada Vertical Series No.5 (translated by Stephen ''Cookie” Sewell).